John Conley comes full circle as Salsa Brava and Fat Olives sweep up six awards in Food & Drink

Best of Flagstaff 2022

Written by Gail G. Collins

A satisfying success in this life is to come full circle. Where one’s achievements align with the passions we set out to pursue, and while it takes a steady head, hard work and perseverance, it just might be our attitude—humble and grateful—that allows one to recognize and embrace that success.

In the beginning, any small business boasts one fired-up, know-it-all employee. Heck, he has invested heart, soul and bank account. It wasn’t any different for John Conley, owner of Salsa Brava and Fat Olives Wood Fired Pizzeria and Italian Kitchen.

Conley began cooking at 13 and has continued ever since. Coming from a large family, cooking kept him fed in more ways than one, and the loud chaos of a kitchen felt natural. After high school, Conley became a Heber Hotshot for the US Forest Service and attended NAU’s hotel and restaurant management program. Equipped with a penchant for Mexican travel and culture, a job at the original Salsa Brava was also a good fit. Then, rushing headlong, on the cusp of finishing his degree, Conley used his savings to buy Salsa Brava at age 21.

He shut down the place for three months and transformed it from counter service to a full restaurant, opening with one employee—John. “I had $200 to my name and slept in the shop,” Conley remembers. But that first week, firefighters battling a blaze needed 500 lunches each day for nearly a week—he was making money.

The new menu at Salsa Brava was unfamiliar, except in Sonora, known for its seafood, beef and produce. Shrimp and lobster enchiladas, Baja tacos and more, showcased flavors from the grill—al carbon—plus a range of salsa options. Thirty-five years later, that aim remains.

A lot of details have shaken out in the meantime, but the food is unshakable. The salsa requires 1,000 pounds of hand-cut tomatoes weekly, and with inflation and a hurricane, the price of a 20-pound case of fruit has skyrocketed six-fold. Also, COVID brought healthy changes to the salsa bar, where an enormous amount became wasted daily. Still, chips and salsa are free at Salsa Brava, and they come with a trio of scratch salsas.

“We spend four hours a day making salsa,” says Conley. “It’s the most expensive thing in our restaurant.” Best Salsa—an award well-earned.

Voted Best Tacos also, Salsa Brava’s choices range from Maui pork, carne asada, smoked chicken and carnitas to shrimp, cochinita pibil (Yucatan BBQ pork) and adovada pork, and the menu includes combination and traditional plates, enchiladas and fajitas.

Continue readingJohn Conley comes full circle as Salsa Brava and Fat Olives sweep up six awards in Food & Drink

Matters of Taste:  Brekkie phenomenon Over Easy serves up protein-packed power meals

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, January 2023

Written by Gail G. Collins

Any time is the right time for breakfast. Whether it’s in the wee hours of the morning with Greek yogurt and anti-oxidizing berries or a brunchy feast with protein-packed steak and eggs, our body eagerly awaits the energy to power us forward. Eating kick-starts our metabolism from snoozy to food-fueled thermogenesis to burn the food we consume. One small bite increases rhythmic contractions and gastric juices in the digestive tract, and it all happens involuntarily. Still, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t engage our brains to make the meal count. New Year, new you. Start with a wholesome breakfast.

In 2008, celebrated Chef Aaron May and Plated Project partners created a restaurant where they wanted to eat. “Nothing gimmicky,” May says. “I was craving good, old fashioned, scratch cooking.”

Over Easy opened in a repurposed Arcadia Taco Bell, and the fulfillment of breakfast-brunch fantasies took flight. The menu wowed Phoenix critics, and Food Network’s Guy Fieri of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives soon crowded the kitchen to learn May’s secret to red-eye gravy. The rest is an expanding story of outstanding eats and added locations.

The licensed franchise is an Arizona concept with 11 sites throughout the Valley with new spots in Gilbert, Mesa and Queen Creek plus four metro stops to come. Fortunately, Flagstaff made the list four years ago.

The brekkie phenom caught the attention of Food & Wine, Condé Nast Traveler, Sunset and USA Today with stints on foodie shows, such as Cooking Channel’s “Food Paradise” and Learning Channel’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate”.

According to partner Ryan Field, “Over Easy makes a bigger splash in smaller markets.” The secret? “We endeavor to create great experiences.”

With yolk yellow and aqua contrasting colors, it’s a light, bright space. A long bar with 50s-style barstools and a wall of windows welcomes guests—Good morning, Sunshine!

The idea is a Chicago diner-driven neighborhood place. “We wanted to duplicate the old school, hand-sliced bacon, crack-every-egg, creative, lively concept,” Field says, “a place where we would want to go.”

Continue readingMatters of Taste:  Brekkie phenomenon Over Easy serves up protein-packed power meals